Mapping Conflicts


A Digital Global Legal History of Missionary Cases in Late Qing China (1860-1911)

The joint project ‘Mapping Conflicts’ aims to explore the global production of normative knowledge in terms of Christian mission conflicts in the late Qing China (1860-1911) by using digital humanities technologies. Unlike the soft strategies of cultural accommodation the Jesuits used in their early Christian mission to China (1583-1800), the second wave of Christianity in China – including both Catholic and Protestant missionaries, together with the Western imperialist powers – expanded from five port cities (Treaty of Nanjing 1842) to the entire territory of the Qing empire (Convention of Peking, 1860). This wave of expansion encompassed everything from major cities to numerous rural villages in China. It also led to a rising number of 'missionary cases' or literally 'religious cases' (Jiao An), a type of quasi-judicial case between converts and non-converts, totaling approximately 1700 cases, that culminated in the 1900 Boxer Uprising.

These missionary cases in the late Qing dynasty (1860-1911) are especially interesting for exploring global missions, local governance, and the production of normative knowledge of everyday politics by mapping conflicts from a perspective of global legal history. The Christian missionary in China was regionally sliced up by different countries and the recording of these conflicts were documented in numerous letters, diaries and reports, which are currently archived across many different countries – from the Vatican to China, as well as many other European and American countries. The archival materials representing the backbone of this research project are from the Zongli Yamen (Office for the General Management of Affairs Concerning the Various Countries, 1861-1901) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1901-1911), totaling more than 30,000 pages.

With the support of the different methods developed within the digital humanities, we are able to digitise and further explore the constructive layering and texture of historical administrative-judicial documents. Moreover, the digitalisation of these materials allows us to examine the mechanism underlying the operation of foreign powers in China, the decision-making processes and strategies hidden in the presentation, format and procedural or bureaucratic notes about these documents. More importantly, we can also examine these files by time, space, institution, subject, and elements pertaining to the conflict (e.g. types of cases, applicable procedures, normative sources, solutions etc.), as well as other relevant external factors (e.g. disasters, diseases, wars etc.). This information will be used to construct a historical-geographical database that allows researchers to analyse a wide variety of correlations across these documents. In short, a digital approach to the study of global legal history not only enables us to see more detail about that which we already know but it also helps us to identify potential epistemic blind spots regarding what we do not yet know.

Based on detailed analysis of archival sources, the initial stages of this joint project will examine local case studies from the Shandong province in the northern plain, the inland Sichuan province in the southwest and the Kiang-nan Catholic Communities on the southeast coast of China. These three regions stand for distinct models in terms of local culture and political-economic geography during the late Qing empire within the context of an increasingly connected world. In order to explore common areas of interest in the fields of law, history and digital humanities, the ‘Mapping Conflicts’ project is working closely with the MPI for the History of Science (Berlin) and the China University of Political Science and Law (Beijing), especially in the development of the Chinese Missionary Cases Database (CMCD).


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